The dust has settled, the ink has dried, and the whispers have stopped. Rick Barnes will return as the Tennessee basketball head coach, despite entertaining a lucrative offer from the blue-blooded UCLA Bruins. For a few days, it seemed like the Volunteers were about to lose a coach that has helped them bring them to unforeseen levels of hype and some of the success with it.
Oddly enough, most of the discussion hasn’t been around the relief that Barnes returning provides. Instead, it’s been about his comments on the reason he stayed in Knoxville. Here’s some of the relevant parts:
“The bottomline is, we (Barnes and UCLA) just really couldn’t work it out with the buyout...After I had met with UCLA, I point blank said I can’t do anything else with you until I’ve talked to Tennessee.”
“I said I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team. I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people who have been really good to me. I can’t just say, send the plan tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure that this is done the right way...”
That is some...genuine honesty about the situation. How many times have we heard generic coach speak about developments that all of us see happening? Some coaches are packing their bags and still maintaining that they’re not thinking of going anywhere else. It’s annoying above all, but it can be borderline rude after a certain point. People want honesty, and it seems like coaching searches are one topic where everyone involved actively tries to evade that honesty.
It’s only fitting that after the whole saga, Tennessee gets a straight and honest answer what the crux of the issue was. Imagine the speculation that would have run rampant about a collapsing locker room or disastrous athletic director malfunction that nearly pushed Barnes out. Instead, the bare truth is revealed: UCLA was going to pay a lot of money and they have an elite program. No hidden motives there.
The question still arises about why he would be open to leaving Tennessee. Some take the entire saga as an insult to the university, with the assumption that Barnes doesn’t properly appreciate what they’ve given him.
More truth is needed for this response: Fans would be shocked if they learned how many of their coaches would willingly leave for another job. Often times we forget that the business is exactly that—a business. Very few coaches at the Division-I level are employed by a team they grew up loving, and even fewer are so enamored by a school that they would willingly take a pay cut to coach at it. Can you imagine leaving your current workplace for a better job offer, and having people decry you for not being loyal? That’s similar to what a lot of coaches feel. The situations aren’t totally parallel, but the fact remains that many have no connection to their current location besides their contract.
If Barnes had taken noticeably less money and still left? Sure, start discussing whether there is something seriously wrong inside the school (still might be). But that isn’t what happened.
Instead, the best of both worlds ends up happening. Tennessee gets to keep a head coach that brought one of their best seasons in program history, and that coach is 100 percent honest with the program. There’s no shame in admitting that UCLA basketball is a comparatively better program than Tennessee (though if they keep up the recent trend, that might change).
The only reservation that might linger is among the players themselves. The idea of a coach leaving makes a lot of players (understandably) upset, considering almost all of them enroll with the idea that the coach will be there at least as long as they are. Will any of Tennessee’s players feel disgruntled that Barnes almost left? Will their trust in him be strained? If so, it’s on Barnes to fix that in time for the 2019-2020 season.